Lloyd Evans

Unappealing characters

<strong>Rosmersholm</strong><br /> <em>Almeida</em><br /> <strong><br /> Love &mdash; The Musical</strong><br /> <em>Lyric</em> <strong>Fat Pig</strong><br /> <em>Trafalgar Studio</em>

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Love — The Musical

Fat Pig

Trafalgar Studio

A Norwegian melodrama about suicide, socialism and thwarted sexual passion. If you saw that on the poster would you be tempted? Nor me. Add the authorship of Ibsen and you might change your mind but you’d be unwise. Rosmersholm is a clumsy, unengaging late play with ghastly characters and weird, wonky relationships. Rosmer, a former priest, shares his house with a blonde sex bomb Rebecca, who was the best friend of his mad wife who drowned herself in a pond. Instead of enjoying a summer of love, the priest and the blonde live a life of irritating and blameless chastity. Enter a bigoted prig with a fairytale baddie name, Dr Kroll, who invites Rosmer to join his right-wing alliance. Rejecting this, Rosmer announces his support for a gang of dangerous revolutionaries. Exit Kroll spitting nails. None of these characters is remotely appealing, although Rebecca seems decent enough. But when she turns out to have been less than frank about her friendship with the drowned wife, she and Rosmer pledge their love for each other and embark on a ludicrous and self-aggrandising act of atonement.

At his best Ibsen creates stories that roll out with an unforced realism pace but his narrative skill has deserted him here. The plot is driven by the contents of the dead wife’s writing-case and the poor woman evidently spent her declining days scribbling sensational accusations about the other characters. Fresh disclosures keep popping up to impel the story forwards and this clockwork trick deprives the play of naturalism.

This is a nice-looking production by Anthony Page (who used to direct Z-Cars, in case you were wondering) but it’s constantly hampered by Ibsen’s interfering puppetry. The only redeeming feature is Peter Sullivan as Mortensgaad, the dashing revolutionary. Sullivan has the slow, benighted nonchalance of a rock star and he’s able to suggest a continent of predatory menace with the flick of an eye, despite being dressed in a beige three-piece summer suit. He’s the show’s best asset and he’s on stage for barely five minutes.

Love, at the Lyric, is almost as clumsy. Set in an old people’s home this musical play tells of the love that flowers between two ancient ruins whose eyes meet across a crowded aerobics room. The show isn’t shy of seeking laughs in distasteful territory. A character with Alzheimer’s trundles about bumping his Zimmer frame into the furniture while the chorus sing ‘Nowhere Man’. There are scenes of wrinkled nudity, octogenarian coupling, and a climactic moment when the charming Dudley Sutton drops his pyjamas and widdles into a pot plant. Yet there’s something glorious about this absurd and self-indulgent show. Shallow, sentimental, kitsch, glib, amateurish and occasionally puerile, Love has a breezy note of debonair recklessness which is irresistible.

Fat Pig is a romcom gone wrong. Tom works in an office and his new girlfriend is very very fat. Worried about his colleagues’ reaction he refuses to introduce her to them and eventually her fatness and his shame cause him to burst into tears. That’s about all that happens. Neil LaBute’s script bristles with improbabilities. Tom has no proper friends and it’s never clear why he ditched the sexy blonde Jeannie for the brunette bouncy-castle Helen. To bring Tom’s dilemma into focus LaBute has to draw his co-workers as fanatical fattie-bashers but surely no one, not even these smug vipers, would be quite so hung up about an acquaintance’s chubby girlfriend.

Luckily, the cast are pretty good. Robert Webb, as Tom, is outstanding at playing sincere, sexy and confused all at once and he easily holds this soggy play together. He’s well supported by Kris Marshall (from the BT ads), always a charming and unsettling presence on stage even when playing a complete tosspot as here. Why doesn’t he try more challenging work? Shakespeare’s poetic baddies would suit him. The amazing thing is that this slight, sour, static, over-talkative, inconclusive televisual play is currently packing out the 400-seat Trafalgar Studio. And with twentysomethings too, exactly the audience other theatres lust after. Maybe the script’s golf-tournament blandness is the key. It has the monochrome familiarity of a comedy drama and the reliable sameness of the view through the train window as the 6.18 speeds homeward towards Godalming. You can zone out for a few minutes and return to it knowing you haven’t missed much. This is perhaps the worst LaBute play I’ve ever seen and perhaps the most commercial. Clearly, he’s on to something. Or, actually he’s on to nothing but he’s discovered how to make it profitable. Clever devil.